Preserving Our Digital Pre-History

I've spent a significant part of my life online. Not just on the internet, I mean, but on modems and early, primitive online communities. Today's internet is everything we couldn't have possibly dared to imagine twenty-five years ago, but there is a real risk of these early, tentative digital artifacts -- and for some, the beginnings of our Hacker Odyssey -- being lost forever in the relentless deluge of online progress. Sure, every single thing that happened in 2004 is documented exhaustively online. But 1994? 1984? Not so much.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at:

Wish I still had my custom SXL graphics art made on Digital GiGi terminals circa 1986… a rosebird and a black panther.

Even saw the panther in an Xterminal advertisement years later.

Stored that stuff on 9track tape, but never got around to extracting it when I had the chance during my first job out of college.
(Of course 9track was dated even then).

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FidoNet? What a blast from the past. I recently fired up Silly Little Mail Reader on an old DOS machine and read some old .QWK mail packets!

It’s not just Geocities, but it’s the varied and multitudinous forums that fail by the wayside, taking all the comments with them into the /dev/null bucket in the ether-sky.

I know Google has those forums in its cache but how do we extract them?

Hey Now Jeff,

History is important!

Coding H0rr0r & S0 Fan,


I’m surprised that Google hasn’t launched a similar project to maintain our digital history.

Google seem great at finding information, but aren’t really about archiving it.

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Well, that’s our job – to feed Google. Now, to feed it junk food or a healthy diet?

Last time I checked, was here to preserve the history of the web. I even hear they were trying to archive as much of Geocities as they could before it went offline.

Google can’t do everything. They are pretty good at what they do (and they did save the deja news archives back in the day), but you can’t expect them to take on every task.

And all of you - give Jason some money. Whatever he accomplishes during the time in question should be amazing, amusing, or both. And if you don’t already have a copy, buy a copy of the BBS Documentary. It’s REALLY something.

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I would think that grants would also be available. Perhaps the Library of Conress, Smithsonian, Boston Computer Society, Google, Bill Gates, etc.

Finally another “Hey Now Jeff” from Catto :)))))

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There were at least five groups trying to archive geocities, operating more-or-less independently and using different techniques to access as many of the files as possible through Yahoo’s bandwidth limitations etc. They all have a different subset, and are now working on merging the projects.

Past data is overrated.
Even though it’s helpful to preserve some overview of the history, it usually doesn’t make sense to preserve everything.
It’s useful to forget not very useful information. Huge amount of data is constantly generated most of which is getting obsolete, so we need to preserve only the most useful pieces of history.

Might be time to dig out my Fidonet netmail backups from the early 90s. There be gold in them thar hills!

@Dennis Gorelik: I generally agree, but then you find there are a great deal of people we think are significant now but during their own time would have been among the discarded. We may not be in a position to judge what is and what is not worth keeping.

“our generation’s digital historian in residence”

I think you might be showing your age there a tad. What’s a BBS?

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Yeah I went to top 100 text files on Jason’s site, 5 of them had information that did not entice me. Some things were so outdated that Google could not throw an exact search match. In short totally irrelevant and useless information.

But wait then I saw some place 1.2 inches HDD floppy disks, and I remembered my school days where we had PCs which supported double density and some supported single density drives. Those were the days when I had 5 different versions of DOS on different floppy types for different PCs. I was the then “OS” Guru who could boot up any PC without Teacher’s support (age 13).

I remembered everything, and now I understand why Jeff is right !!

@Dinah: There is always some risk to lose valuable information when forgetting something. The trick is to forget information which is more likely to be useless.
Keep in mind that without forgetting we would drawn in the pile of useless info. It’s not only about spending resources to preserve the information, it’s also about spending resources to re-read and re-think that old (and often useless) information.

Too bad I’m a student, otherwise I’d really donate some money for the cause. I’m still looking for an archived version of some of the FidoNet echos, because Google’s archive is way too incomplete. Thank you all for supporting.

Hey, where is the original captcha? :frowning:

@Dennis - I would think that two blog post in a row asking to give up your money would have something to do with it. What happened to the cool tech and programming posts Jeff?